Anime Storyboards: Bodacious Space Pirates

Bodacious Space Pirates

Year: 2012
Rating: TV-14
Episode Count: 26
Production Studio: Satelight

 

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Back in 2012 I started getting into Age of Sail-style science fiction in the form of David Weber’s Honor Harrington and David Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar Navy. I have enjoyed both, though I have a preference for the Republic of Cinnabar Navy in part due to its smaller scale. A major reason for my sudden interest was due to my following the online simulcast of Bodacious Space Pirates at the beginning of that year.

Marika Kato is a fairly typical high school freshman living on the independent colony world Sea of Morningstar. This changes one evening when a pair of strangers whom her mother seems to recognize visit. The reason they’ve come is to announce the recent death of Marika’s father Gonzaemon Kato. This comes as a surprise to her, as she wasn’t aware that he had still been alive. But the bigger surprise comes when Marika is informed that he was the captain of the space pirate ship Bentenmaru. Well, technically not pirates, but rather privateers. You see, about a hundred years ago, Sea of Morningstar was not independent but wished to be so and revolted. To beef up their meager naval forces, letters of marque were issued to space pirates. Though the war is long over, these government-sanctioned pirates are still around, primarily working as independent troubleshooters. And this is where Marika comes into the picture. You see, a key condition to the letter of marque is that the captaincy may only be passed on through blood inheritance (presumably to discourage more aggressive forms of promotion by the crew). And as Gonzaemon sired no other children, that makes Marika the Bentenmaru’s new captain. Now this isn’t quite as preposterous as it may sound at first. As a member of her school’s (space) yachting club, she at the very least knows her way around a spaceship. However, Marika initially believes that the whole thing is all a bizarre joke. However, a bit of research not only reveals that the Bentenmaru is real, but her mom appears in an older picture of the crew. Even so, this is all a bit sudden and Marika needs some time to think about it. Though judging from the sweet bicorn she sports on the DVD cover and the fact that there wouldn’t be much of a series if she didn’t accept, it’s pretty much a given what her ultimate decision will be.

In most science fiction which emulates the Age of Sail, the protagonists are typically members of their homeworld’s navy. So it’s an interesting change of pace to focus on privateering, which historically was presented as an honorable and patriotic profession (even though the reality didn’t always live up to the romance). A considerable plus is how the initial storyline is not rushed. Rather than have Marika jump in without a second thought or be dragged in while protesting her destiny, a middle ground is taken where she mulls over the matter at her leisure. It also helps that Marika is a genuinely likeable protagonist whose upbeat and ever so slightly ditzy personality manages to be charming rather than grating. If there’s one significant flaw in the series, I would say it’s the presence of the Yachting Club, specifically their members. They are a necessary component of the series as far as establishing Marika’s competence with spaceship operations. However, they are also largely a collection of one-note personalities who get more screen time than they really deserve. This becomes especially obvious during a five episode arc where the Yachting Club operates the Bentenmaru while the regular crew is quarantined thanks to some tainted cargo. That particular stretch was unadulterated pain in which the only saving grace is that it can be skipped over without consequence. Thankfully, the series manages to regain momentum for a strong finish.

Among the useable themes present in Bodacious Space Pirates are:

  • The Unexpected Inheritance: An excellent method for starting off an adventure or even a campaign is to have some distant relative of one of the characters kick the bucket and bequeath something to him. It could be just about anything, like a spoo ranch, or a phlebotinum mine, or a hundred million dollars (though non-liquid assets generally make for more viable adventure hooks). Claiming the inheritance can be an adventure in its own right by having some unusual conditions in the will. If intended as a one-off scenario, the inheritance could be a scam concocted by nefarious types for a variety of unsavory reasons. If the inheritance takes the form of real estate, it can easily serve as a base of operations for the campaign.
  • The Ginormous Structure of Mystery: If there’s one thing guaranteed to be shmuck bait for player characters, it’s a vaguely sinister structure which no one in living memory has ever explored and lived to tell the tale. If it happens to be mobile in some fashion (moving either in a set pattern or seemingly at random), so much the better. The edifice could be a remnant of a dead civilization, or a portal to another realm, or the base of a malignant intelligence. It could be packed with the usual gamut of monsters, traps, and similar obstacles, or be eerily desolate. For those out for loot, this could consist of conventional wealth, a stash of lost magic or technology, a repository of knowledge, or something a bit more esoteric.
  • The Profession Pogrom: This one is obviously best suited for campaigns where the player characters share a common line of work. A mini-campaign can center around fellow members of the shared profession being mysteriously killed off. Ideally, this should be hinted at in adventures preceding it, like an occasional mention of an associate who has gone missing. The perpetrator could range from being a lone nutjob (usually with considerable resources) to a full-fledged organization. Motives can be just as varied. If the trade is of the freelancing type, it could be another such person who wishes to cut down on the competition. Perhaps it’s someone who had a traumatic experience with a member of the profession and is blowing it out of proportion with a rampage of vengeance. A cabal of some sort might regard the actions of the profession as an impediment to their agenda and have chosen to take extreme measures.

Anime Storyboards: Scrapped Princess

Scrapped Princess

Year: 2003
Rating: TV-14
Episode Count: 24
Production Studio: Bones

When I say the word “post-apocalypse,” what images spring to mind? Motorcycle-mounted bandit gangs chasing down a lone traveller across the wastes? Survivor settlements that use gutted vehicles and similar scrap for fortifications? Quasi-fascist organizations conquering said survivor settlements piecemeal? Yes, the typical gamer’s concept of post-apocalypse has been heavily influenced by the Mad Max Trilogy, along with the many knock-offs that cropped up back in the Eighties. But how about an old-school fantasy setting? While not quite as obvious as the others mentioned, the idea of a fantasy setting that came to be after our present day civilization self-destructed is certainly a viable one. And while Scrapped Princess is hardly the first to employ the concept (the Shannara series by Terry Brooks is the most evident, and many others toy with the idea to some degree), it does offer its own unique twists.

The crux of the series concerns a prophecy involving the royal family of Leinwan. The prophecy alludes that a princess born to that family will become the poison that destroys the Earth on her sixteenth birthday. When a girl is born to the royal family, accompanied by the signs specified in the prophecy, it is decided that fate shall be preemptively spiked by having the girl be tossed off a cliff. As anyone familiar with Oedipus Rex could guess, this is not what happens. Instead, the person tasked with the killing just can’t do it and gives the child to a family of commoners to be raised as one of their own. Fifteen years later, the deception has been uncovered and the god-like Peacemakers (who are the real power in Leinwan) dispatch minions to seek out the girl and kill her. The girl, Pacifica Casull, is able to escape their initial assault with the aid of her foster siblings, Shannon and Raquel, and the three of them are forced into a life on the run. During their travels, they meet a girl called Zefiris. She is the last of the Dragoons, who were beings similar to (though less powerful than) the Peacemakers. As she accompanies them, they slowly learn the truth behind the true nature of the conflict between the Peacemakers and the Dragoons, as well as why Pacifica is so important.

Before I continue, I must warn you that I’m about to reveal a significant spoiler to give the rest of the column some context. So if you’re thinking of checking out Scrapped Princess yourself and wish to watch it with fresh eyes, you may want to stop now. For everyone else, here’s the lowdown. As you might suspect, the Peacemakers and the Dragoons are not gods but rather artificial intelligences originally created to aid humanity in a war against aliens. The Peacemakers were the most advanced models and had the greatest degree of independent thought. They used this to analyze the progress of the war and came to the conclusion that humanity was doomed to extinction if matters were allowed to continue as is. So they covertly made a deal with the aliens where they agreed to forcibly confine humanity to Earth so as to cease hostilities. Unable to challenge the Peacemakers head-on, the Dragoons went with a long-term solution. Their plan involved discrete genetic manipulation to eventually create the Providence Breaker, a human capable of resisting the influence of the Peacemakers and bringing an end to their confinement of humanity. To make this plan more likely to succeed, similar genetic tinkering was applied to various humans so that they would be subconsciously inclined to aid the Providence Breaker.

The most engaging theme of Scrapped Princess involves the philosophical differences between the Peacemakers and the Dragoons. In particular, the way both sides sincerely regard themselves as the ones with humanity’s best interests at heart. And it’s quite difficult to fault either of them. The Peacemakers see themselves as protecting humanity from themselves and regard the Dragoons as irresponsible enablers of humanity’s worst impulses. Meanwhile, the Dragoons had devoted themselves to liberating humanity from their imprisonment which resulted from what they see as the conniving treachery of the Peacemakers. The various human factions also have similar convictions. Whether their aim is to aid or hinder Pacifica, each of them genuinely believes what they are doing is right and just. If there is a failing to the series, it’s the tendency to hand wave much of the technology behind the Peacemakers and the Dragoons. For instance, it’s never really clear how they manifest in the physical world. Initially, they appear to be some form of hologram. But aside from the question as to how they’re projected, they also display a wide array of combat capabilities which really stretches the hologram idea to the point where it may as well be magic as opposed to technology appearing to be magic. Still, there are some other rather creative implementations of technology as magic. One of the more memorable ones involves a bard assassin who uses poison-injecting robots the size of an insect which are controlled though a musical instrument that plays notes outside the human hearing range.

scrappedprincessMany fantasy settings give hints of there having once been a more advanced civilization in the distant past. So why not have that civilization be ours? While such may primarily serve as background material, uncovering the truth about the past can also serve as the basis of a campaign. Some of the themes touched upon in Scrapped Princess include:

  • Sufficiently Advanced Technology: This concept popularized by Arthur C. Clarke notes how, if a technology is so advanced that it’s not recognizable as such by those perceiving it, it appears to be magic. Any number of technological doodads can be the basis of a talisman. It’s just a matter of properly describing them so that it’s not immediately obvious to your players as to what it actually is. Care must be taken not to overuse it though. If every random encounter and his dog has a high tech thingamabob, it can strain credibility.
  • Origin of the Species: Though largely a background element, how the various fantasy beings came into existence is worth considering. Traditional fantasy races like elves and dwarves could be forms of mutated humans that managed to flourish. Some of the more bizarre fantasy critters could be similarly mutated animals or descended from bioengineered constructs which had been designed to reproduce. Golems and other similar “magical” entities could be robots or holograms. A reputedly immortal warrior of great renown could be an android or a cyborg. Really, the sky’s the limit.
  • But We’re the Good Guys: There are some settings where having a villian who is consciously evil works just fine, such as Golden Age-style superheroes or old-school pulp adventure. But in other settings, it’s worth considering the motivation of the major antagonists. Some could merely be selfish and convinced that they deserve what they desire, no matter how their actions affect others. Others may have started with laudable goals that became twisted over time, but they’re convinced that the end result justifies whatever horrors are inflicted in the process. Then there are those who may believe that the player characters are a menace who must be stopped. Without knowing the intent behind their actions, the stereotypical player character party could appear to be a bunch of out of control sociopaths (or perhaps they actually are).

RoundCon 2013: A Battle with Adversity

In 2013, JustUs Productions (the guys behind this web site and gaming cons like MACE in Charlotte, NC) was asked to run gaming at a con in Columbia, SC called RoundCon (RC).  RC has been around for 20+ years, first started by a gaming club out of the University of South Carolina.  Sean Martinez has been the guy behind RoundCon for several years now.  Some time ago, Sean took over the con from the ailing gaming club and turned into his own business.

In all truth, RoundCon has struggled in many areas over the last few years.  It has not had consistent dates for several years, which is a big no-no in the con business.  It also has struggled with an identity crisis.  Sean has two major interests.  Gaming is one of them; anime is the other.  He has tried to satisfy both passions by having both at his con.  However, one or the other has suffered each year.  Some gamers got turned off by the inconsistent gaming and some were put off by the increase focus on anime.  From a gaming point of view, RoundCon was going to be a total rebuild for us from the start.

Rebuilding gaming for a con like this takes a lot of work and a lot of disappointments at first.  Gamers will only believe it when they see it, so the first year was just going to be a building year to show gamers that it can be possible to rebuild gaming at a con that has struggled in the past.  You can promise the moon to gamers but until they see the consistent schedule, the games being played, and the passion behind making it work, they won’t show.  So at the very least, we knew not to expect a huge turnout for the first year of a rebuild.

There were also other circumstances that made things difficult for RoundCon gaming and, without getting into too much detail, just know that RoundCon had a lot to overcome.  On top of that, Sean had to make the difficult decision to move his con 3 weeks before the con.  That is a huge no-no, but fortunately we were able to work with him and help him move it across the street so it was not a huge move.

This year for us has been a lesson is humility, in perseverance, and in patience.  We got through the adversity and at least for the first day, despite the thin schedule, we had a pretty good turn out.  With the change in venue, I had to whittle everything down to 25 tables.  All games made, for the most part.  Most, if not all, gamers seemed happy and had a good time. Also, there were very little fires to put out.

img_20130802_211323_363The best thing was the energy.  Gamers saw and they believed.  The energy for RoundCon gaming was up and even though they didn’t see as much on the schedule as I would like this year, they know they will see more next year.  I made good contacts with people that are willing to support gaming in this community and go beyond personal politics.  Next year has a lot more potential now.  I have to admit, early on, the adversity had really effected my spirits but as the con went on, I felt much better.  I think we have a lot to look forward to.

I had a combination of anticipation and dread going into the second day of RoundCon.  Saturday for three day weekend cons are usually the peak days, where the con gets a lot of one day-pass traffic.  I really did not feel I had enough on the schedule to keep people happy.  And as it turns out, I was right.   However, that turned out to be a good thing.  It gave me the opportunity to (1) explain to them our plans for the future  and (2) push MACE and our other events.  For what it is was, Saturday was a really good day.  I was very surprised. More than two-thirds of the tables made and there were many pick up games.  The energy in the room was very tangible; people were enjoying themselves and dice and cards were being thrown everywhere.

Bottom line, RoundCon was a small gaming event as compared to many others.  I figure we had maybe 75 to 100 gamers, yet much can be learned from the challenges we faced.  RoundCon has a lot of history and with that comes a lot of baggage.  Even the larger cons like DragonCon have baggage.  This baggage can manifest in many ways.  In the case of RoundCon, it amounted to bad politics and a divided local gaming community.  We at JustUs Productions were not involved in these politics which made us an ideal group to help out.  Working hard to find people outside of the division and outside the politics was the priority.  Not being in the area made it difficult but we made up for it with all the networking we did onsite.

Despite all the adversity and challenges we faced, RoundCon still has a lot of potential and next year will only grow.  We had a lot of fun with many of the faithful willing to come out to game with us. With their help, RoundCon gaming will return to what it was.  JustUs Productions looks forward to working with them in the future.

Anime Storyboards: Pumpkin Scissors

Year: 2006
Rating: TV-14

Welcome to Anime Storyboards. Much like B-Movie Inspirations, the intent of this column is to seek out ideas for RPG sessions and campaigns in other media. Anime shows have a particular advantage in this regard as the characters in them frequently have an RPG party vibe to them.

For the inaugural column, I’ve selected a show which employs a popular naming technique wherein two English words are chosen seemingly at random and slapped together with no regard for coherence. So what could a show with a name like Pumpkin Scissors possibly be about? If you were to take some guesses, post-war recovery probably wouldn’t be among them. Yet that happens to be the show’s focus.

The setting in question is an alternate Earth which resembles a mishmash of post-WWI Britain and Germany. Three years previous to the beginning of the series, a war between the Royal Empire and the Republic of Frost came to an end. (Though never explicitly stated, it’s implied to have ended in a stalemate.) As the war had seen the introduction of tanks as well as flame weapons and chemical warfare, the devastation had been extensive. In the Royal Empire, the State Section III War Relief Unit was established to aid in the recovery. Unfortunately, the brass largely regarded the idea as a bad joke. Furthermore, many among the citizenry they were supposed to be aiding saw them as little more than a propagangda tool of the government. As a result, they were chronically underfunded and understaffed and got little respect. Nevertheless the State Section III War Relief Unit, known more informally by the unit name Pumpkin Scissors, did what they could to get the nation past the post-war doldrums, often trodding on some very influential toes in the process.

War recovery is a subject which is not frequently employed in fiction and is all but unknown in anime. So it could be said that Pumpkin Scissors is breaking new ground. And for the most part it does a good job of it. A wide variety of situations regarding post-war recovery are touched upon and spun into engaging stories. The bulk of these are resolved within one episode, but a few occur over two or three episodes, and there are a couple of recurring background elements that pop up on occasion. Unfortunately, the series loses steam about two-thirds of the way through, with Episode Eighteen in particular being some rather tedious filler. Furthermore, the climax is padded out over four episodes when it could have been resolved in no more than two. But in spite of these late hiccups, the actual conclusion was overall satisfactory while leaving an opening for a second season (which was ultimately not pursued).

pumpkinscissorsWar frequently serves as a backdrop in an RPG campaign, and can sometimes be the driving force behind one. But all wars come to an end, and not necessarily a Final End. For a change of pace, a campaign based on recovery from a war has possibilities. Among those touched on in Pumpkin Scissors:

  • There’s Always Room for Deserters: There are times when a soldier has had it with a life on the war front, but his term isn’t done yet (and may not be for some time). In such circumstances, desertion can be seen as an attractive possibility. The only problem is what to do afterwards. Most end up turning to a life of crime. One of the more popular forms is banditry, as looting isolated towns and waylaying lone travellers is a relatively low-risk method of enriching oneself. For those who prefer an urban environment, deserters can easily become enforcers for a street gang or an organized crime syndicate. Deserters tend to be tougher nuts to crack than your garden variety criminals, due both to their military training and the possibility that they helped themselves to some hardware before leaving.
  • Inventory (Out of) Control: Like any large organization, the military can experience the loss of supplies and equipment due to employee skullduggery. The main difference is that such losses tend to be more alarming than some swiped paperclips. Weapons, ammunition, and combat vehicles, along with their ancillary components, are some of the things which can go missing and end up in the wrong hands. Those wrong hands can include criminals, terrorists, insurgents, and random nutjobs looking for trouble. The sort of people willing to participate can be a deserter who helped himself before leaving his unit, a greedy quartermaster looking to sock away a little extra cash, or an unscrupulous contractor selling some off the books.
  • The Civilians Are Restless: The end of a war can be an economically awkward time. A combination of wartime industries scaling back and the mustering out of soldiers no longer required in the military can potentially trigger a recession. If the country is forced to pay reparations, a full-blown depression can result. Naturally this can inspire resentment and ill will towards the goverment especially if they behave apathetically towards the citizenry’s plight. Left unattended, such a situation can spiral out of control and devolve into anarchy.
  • Let Loose the Dogs of War (Again): For some people, there’s no such thing as peace, just breathers between wars. Their reasons for instigating a new one can vary. Someone from the winning side may feel that they were shortchanged by the terms in the signed treaty. The victory may also have encouraged thoughts about conquering other neighboring countries. Someone from the losing side could be bitter over lost territory and onerous reparations and may seek to even the score. An unscrupulous war contractor could see stirring up hostilities as a way for business to pick up. Finally, any number of top secret government projects could regard a new war as an opportunity for field testing.